Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Hasting to Hastings

Monday 3 June 2019. We had motored down to Eastbourne on the previous day and booked into a hotel for a few days. Today after the 300 mile drive we were to take it easy and we caught a local bus to Hastings.

Hastings wasn't the bus's final destination so once we recognised Hastings seafront we hopped off the bus and walked the rest of the way to the far end of town. It was glorious weather. In fact we got more suntanned than we had done on the Mediterranean last month!

Above this cliff is William the Conqueror's castle. Below it a large unit boarded up and spoiling the effect of the classical feel to the buildings behind. William of Normandy actually landed a few miles west of here in Pevensey, but the town has come to be synonymous with the famous battle - which also wasn't fought here... A funicular railway affords a less strenuous way up the cliff to the castle, but we left that for another visit.

By the time you reach the eastern side of Hastings you are approaching the old town and the Georgian rows of hotels and guest houses make way to less uniform and somewhat more varied and interesting buildings. Weatherboarding covers many of them and it is here that you will find pubs, restaurants and fish and chip shops with the odd seafood stall thrown in for good measure.

There's a bit of competition amongst the buildings to be the oldest of some type or trade. One is labelled "Britain's Oldest Brewer". This turned out to be more the boast of the brewery supplying the pub than the pub itself. Shepherd Neame Brewery was founded way back in 1698, owns more than 320 pubs and exports beer to more than 35 countries. But here I must point out that I'm not talking about The Dolphin pub pictured here, which is a Free House and just looked nice!

Standing on the shingle beach at the eastern end of Hastings are these fishermens' net drying huts. Tall enough to allow nets to be hung up and dried they can also be used for mending nets.

Not to be outdone by the cliff towards the west, this end of Hastings also has a cliff which has its own East Hill Lift funicular railway. I do love a good funicular. They are rare enough to not have become too familiar and any railway that has "fun" as part of its descriptive name can't be bad!

Talking of railways... Amongst the grounded fishing boats and drying nets on the borderline between beach and concrete we found preparations ongoing to ready the miniature train along a stretch of the seafront. Another steam locomotive was poking its nose out of a nearby shed and a diesel locomotive was partnering this one, which must be a visiting engine as it is not included on the firm's website.

Amongst the net drying sheds are the equipment and vessels, current and past, of Hastings' fishing fleet. Stacks of crab and lobster pots are lined up amidst tangles of old fraying ropes. Boats and shells of boats lie on chocks or leaning on the beach with sun-faded paintwork. Bits of marine engines lie waiting for someone to need a spare part.

Two ladies were sitting, sketching in books. They were together but were sitting so far apart to get different viewpoints that I wasn't sure until I asked. They had driven out for the day from home around 20 miles away. "I hate doing boats..." one confided. I generally feel the same. They are very hard shapes to get right.

We said goodbye to the artists and, with my own sketchbook still tucked under my arm, moved away from the possibilities of the object-rich beach and towards the shop-rich streets of the old town...

Before the advent of national housing regulations, architects and builders, most towns were a delightful hotch-potch of different building design and appearance. You can still see this along older streets, such as the main routes into and out of towns, as building styles change every or every few houses. Now most of us live on estates with just three or four designs to share between the scores or even hundreds of homes.

Ye Olde Pumphouse still has its old pump. It is mounted on the external wall just behind the swinging pub sign. I can think of three reasons why this might be the case: (1) it was thought it would be easier to water the hanging flower baskets; (2) it was sometimes necessary to douse the more drunken customers in order to sober them sufficiently to walk home; or (3) it was originally somewhere much more sensible and was only put up in its lofty position when the landlord woke up to a tap on the door. "Very nice, but can it go over the sink instead?"

This street (George Street) is full of antiques and artisan shops, old timbered pubs and buildings and the odd emporium catering to some dwindling specialist function, trade or habit.

Speaking of which, we followed a sign for cream teas only to find that the small pot of clotted cream that I received with some misgivings, once opened had more empty space than clotted cream... And two tiny individual breakfast jam portions for two whopping big scones? Pah! Head much further west and get a decent cream tea would be my advice.

We spent a bit of time on a bench whilst I do a spot of sketching myself. The little railway runs behind me as I'm doing this. At intervals I jump out of my skin at the horn blast of the diesel loco or cough and choke in the smoke of the steam loco...

Then we re-trace our steps along George Street for a second look and head towards the railway station where we can catch our return bus.

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